Watch Smarter

Back to the Future Gets Time Travel Wrong. The Terminator Gets It Right.

Here’s the difference.

Watch Smarter is Slate’s series that teaches you to spot hidden tropes in pop culture and beyond. Watch all episodes.

Some movies do time travel right. Other movies do time travel wrong.

This is not an artistic assessment. It’s a metaphysical truth, at least according to philosophers. Regardless of whether time travel will ever be physically possible, the question we’re going to consider is how it would work logically if it did work at all. In this episode of Watch Smarter, Slate’s video series on the hidden mechanics of pop culture, we explain the philosophical quandaries that mean The Terminator and Harry Potter make a certain kind of sense, while Back to the Future doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.

Thanks to Professors Sara Bernstein and Ryan Wasserman for their research.